NBA Finals Preview and Prediction

By Patrick Hayes   July 5, 2021 

NBA Finals Preview and Prediction

The Milwaukee Bucks face the Phoenix Suns in a NBA Finals matchup that offers major redemption for each team’s respective franchise players.

For Chris Paul, that redemption has been a long time coming. Paul, now 36, has had a remarkable and consistent career as one of the most efficient and steady point guards who ever played the game. His accomplishments put him firmly in the conversation with Magic Johnson, John Stockton, Oscar Robertson, Isiah Thomas, Steve Nash, and maybe only a small handful of others as the greatest point guard of all-time.

Jul 6, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) greets guard Chris Paul (3) after his baskst scored against the Milwaukee Bucks during the second half in game one of the 2021 NBA Finals at Phoenix Suns Arena. Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Most remarkable has been how well Paul’s game has aged. This season as a member of the Suns Paul averaged 16 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds, and a steal per game while shooting nearly 50 percent overall and 40 percent from three-point range. At a time when he’s supposed to be in the twilight of his career, Paul put up All-Star numbers that were right in line with his peak seasons as a member of the New Orleans Hornets, Los Angeles Clippers, and Houston Rockets.

Perhaps most impressively, just two years ago, Paul looked like he was nearing the end of his career. He had struggled with major injuries in Houston and was dealt by the team to Oklahoma City in an effort to shed the money remaining on his contract. Instead of finishing his career in exile with the rebuilding Thunder, Paul re-found his health and All-Star form and made Oklahoma City postpone its rebuild by one season as he led the team to the playoffs. In the offseason, he found his way to Phoenix and now, with his contract up at the end of this season, he is once again looking at signing a major multi-year contract that no one would’ve predicted he’d be in line for after he was unloaded by Houston. 

The trade to Phoenix and the team’s subsequent ascension has helped Paul add the only glaring missing element from his legacy – a deep playoff run and NBA Finals appearance. Prior to this season, Paul had only made the conference finals once in his career. In that previous appearance with Houston, Paul’s injury in the series cost the Rockets a chance at the Finals in a series they were in control of prior to the injury. 

Paul will face a Bucks team with a superstar that has faced similar criticisms about his lack of playoff success. Giannis Antetokounmpo, at just 26-years-old, has already won two MVP awards and the Defensive Player of the Year award. He’s led Milwaukee to dominant regular season performances only to experience disappointment in the playoffs the past two seasons. 

Antetokounmpo’s individual accolades so early in his career are nearly unprecedented, but without the playoff success to match, he’s ended each of the past two seasons facing criticism. This year’s Bucks team didn’t have the regular season success of the previous two seasons, finishing third in the East, but they have gutted out a tough playoff run. They benefitted from injuries to Brooklyn stars Kyrie Irving and James Harden in round two and Atlanta’s Trae Young in the Eastern Conference Finals, but every team gets a bit of luck here and there during long playoff runs. Milwaukee had its own adversity too, though, as Antetokounmpo was injured and missed time in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Jul 6, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) is defended by Phoenix Suns forward Cameron Johnson (23) and center Deandre Ayton (22) during the second half in game one of the 2021 NBA Finals at Phoenix Suns Arena. Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The important part is that the Bucks are finally playing for a championship, giving Antetokounmpo the chance to prove he really is as dominant as his regular season performances have suggested he is in his career.

But who has the best story won’t be a factor in the outcome of the series. What’s special about this Finals is the teams are new and fresh on the title scene, and both are built around defensive identities. Look no further than the point guard battle if you’re looking for a matchup that will be a big factor in the outcome. 

Paul is still a great defensive player, and Milwaukee’s Jrue Holiday might be the best perimeter defender in the league. Holiday’s offense is inconsistent, though. The Bucks are nearly unbeatable when Holiday is aggressively looking for his shot and attacking the basket to setup teammates. If Paul can slow him down or keep him more passive, though, the Bucks become a much easier team to defend. 

The Suns also have weapons to throw at Antetokounmpo. Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder are both tough defenders who are accustomed to guarding bigger players. Their mobility makes them good bets to spend a lot of time as Antetokounmpo’s primary defenders, but look for Phoenix to also give DeAndre Ayton some looks on Milwaukee’s star. Ayton’s length and athleticism could bother Antetokounmpo around the rim, and his defense and rebounding have been major x-factors for Phoenix in the playoffs and have helped influence the NBA odds heavily each game. He won’t be able to defend Antetokounmpo off the dribble, but he should be able to effectively provide help and try to force the ball out of Antetokounmpo’s hands.

Both teams also feature major scorers on the wings in Devin Booker and Khris Middleton. Booker is dealing with a broken nose and never fully got comfortable playing with a mask in the Western Conference Finals. He and Middleton both are capable of explosive scoring games, but both have also had poor performances in the playoffs. Whichever team gets the most consistent performance should likely win the series.


Assuming everyone is healthy – and Antetokounmpo was recently upgraded to questionable for game one of the series, so he’s likely to play – these teams are as evenly matched as it gets. Phoenix wins in seven thanks to a slight edge in their coaching staff’s ability to make adjustments and Paul’s ability to be a coach on the floor.

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